Just Because We Can…

A few days ago the notion of ‘advertising moments’ had a moment. ‘The New York Times’ carried a piece on the topic which as good as anointing the thought with a powerful mix of mainstream recognition and due authority.

Except that as ‘The NYT’ concluded this is about as thin as it gets.

One of the most clichéd expressions in advertising (as much loved by me as by all other right-thinking cliché merchants) is the one about right person, right place, right time, right context. We’ve always known that reaching people in the moment is important; it’s just that now we have the technology to allow advertisers to deliver messages to a mobile device at just the right moment, if ‘right’ can be defined very literally on time and place dimensions.

It’s easy to see how a service that allows a brand to serve a commercial message at the exact moment the consumer is in the market to buy can be useful. But not without thinking through how such an activity might fit with other band activities.

Plus – sometimes technology isn’t the answer.

The other day I was early for a meeting in an unfamiliar part of town, and in need of coffee. Where to find a decent coffee shop?

I had two options. Take my gloves off (it was a cold day), find my phone, curse the lack of a decent signal, move up the road to get a better signal, search for coffee shops, navigate my way past the mass of ads and sponsored content for Starbucks (some as close as about two or three miles away), find a search entry for an independent coffee shop, go to maps, go to coffee shop.

Or I could ask a passer-by where I could get a decent cup of coffee. Which I did.

Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean large numbers will rush to use it.

‘The NYT’ piece quotes a Google executive as saying: “The advertising game is no longer about reach and frequency. Now more than ever, intent is more important than identity and demographics, and immediacy is more important than brand loyalty.”

It’s worth dismantling this nonsense.

First, you have to reach people. Unless you do that you’re nowhere. Then ‘intent’ is simply another descriptor. Brand loyalty may well be less important than immediacy sometimes, but brand awareness and brand perception are I would contend still very important.

Then there’s the creepy component. At a time when we are all a bit anxious about what large corporations (not to mention Governments) are doing with our data is it really smart to demonstrate that ‘we know where you are, and what you’re thinking’ quite so obviously?

At last year’s asi event, Pedro Cosa of Channel 4 showed a great Coke example of using programmatic techniques to personalise creative work. Coke had linked with C4’s registration data to serve an ad with an individual’s name on the bottle. So – if I were watching at the right moment I would see an ad featuring a bottle with Brian on it.

It was clever, but as was pointed out, the first time you think ‘wow that’s neat’; the 2nd time: ‘hey come and look at this’; the 3rd time: ‘OK that’s weird how do they know it’s me watching’.

The Google quote is full of the arrogance and short-term thinking far too common within the digiterati. The certainty, the lack of any appreciation of the role for any brand building activities beyond the immediate call to action, even the dismissive reference to ‘the advertising game’, all make me even more determined to use my own patented search engine – the ‘ask a passer-by’ option.

‘The NYT’ puts it better: “To build brands, an effort that accounts for the majority of ad spending, companies need more than a moment….the latest scheme to reach peripatetic consumers could prove, well, momentary”.

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.



  1. Brilliantly put, I couldn’t agree more!

  2. How dare you question the New York Times. The are ALWAYS right. For example, they fully supported the position that the US needed to go to IRAK because they had WMDs. Need I say more? The reality is that the advertising trade was the coolest and that only pros could comment on it. Now that Digital is the coolest,no one can comment on that but everyone is giving their (unsolicited)opinion on advertising. Including the NYT. The Mad men industry (not culture which is misogynistic and self destructive)is long gone.

  3. I’m beginning to wonder whether Brian should actually be allowed to walk the streets on his own. As for talking to strangers….

  4. Another thoughtful and observant piece, Brian. Unbelievable comment from Google rep… thought they only hired the smartest guy in the room. Oh, sorry, that was Enron.

  5. The issue of “brand” is a complicated one.

    Brand “loyalty” is certainly one of the most mischaracterized of all consumer behaviors. It usually turns out to be nothing more than convenience, habit, or mild satisfaction. Not the “love” that brand babblers like to chatter about.

    On the other hand, brand awareness and brand preference are enormously powerful drivers of consumer behavior. If the Google genius doubts this, let’s see him take the Google brand off his website and see what happens.

  6. Totally agree.

    In the vast amount of stuff I get thrown at me, your blogs are not just something I am “open” to skimming, but something I look forward to getting like a nice magazine subscription.

  7. Humans need to communicate with each other more and advertising has only ever been a signpost in that conversation….and frankly it should remain as such. The best digital can offer is to curate this better…..which, by the way, I think it is improving on especially as most media gets shunted into a digital lane.
    Google – well, too big to fail?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *